Home > News and media > News > News archive > 2007 > Family structure has changed dramatically over past decade finds new research


Family structure has changed dramatically over past decade finds new research

Page Contents >

The number of cohabiting couple families in the UK increased by 65 per cent between 1996 and 2006 and  the number of married couple families fell by 4 per cent, according to a report published this week by a team of researchers from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), LSE and Warwick University.

The report, Focus on Families 2007, was carried out for the ONS by Professor Mike Murphy|, professor of demography at LSE, who looked at the relationship between family living arrangement and health; Linda Pickard|, research fellow at LSE, who who looked at unpaid care and the family; Hannah McConnell, Ben Wilson and Steve Smallwood, ONS; and Richard Lampard, Warwick University.

The researchers found that the total number of families in the UK reached 17.1 million in 2006, compared with 16.5 million in 1996. However the number of families headed by a married couple fell by half a million between 1996 and 2006, to just over 12 million. At the same time both lone-mother and cohabiting couple families increased so that they now total 2.3 million each.

Key findings include:

  • In 2001 half of cohabiting couple families were headed by a person under 35
  • Lone mother families tend to be younger than lone father families by approximately ten years.
  • One in three lone mothers in the UK were aged under 35, whereas less than one in ten lone fathers were under 35
  • Younger generations are more likely to cohabit
  • Stepfamilies containing dependent children are even more likely to be cohabiting couple families
  • 17 year olds are most likely to be in education if in married couple non-stepfamilies
  • Those with no qualifications marry early but appear least likely to marry
  • Partnership continues to be the healthiest state - there are health benefits associated with partnership, especially marriage, but there are variations by sex. In particular, older single women have better health than married women on many indicators of health status
  • The majority of unpaid care is family care, especially when provided for long hours. Around 1.2 million working age adults in Britain provide intense unpaid care for a spouse, parent or others for 20 hours a week or more, either inside or outside the household
  • Adults who are married are approximately twice as likely to provide intense care for an ill, disabled or elderly relative or friend as those who are cohabiting
  • London has the highest proportion of lone parents
  • London and Northern Ireland had the lowest proportions of stepfamilies and Yorkshire and the Humber had the highest proportion of stepfamilies
  • The largest families are in Northern Ireland

For a full copy of the report and press release visit http://www.statistics.gov.uk/StatBase/Product.asp?vlnk=14049|



Professor Mike Murphy by emailing:  m.murphy@lse.ac.uk|

Linda Pickard by emailing: l.m.pickard@lse.ac.uk| 

Steve Smallwood, Office of National Statistics Press Office on 01329 813539 or by emailing steve.smallwood@ons.gsi.gov.uk|

Esther Avery, LSE Press Office on 020 7955 7060 or by emailing e.avery@lse.ac.uk|

Press cuttings

Times (15 October)
The joy of letting go
Mothers are often grief-stricken when their children leave home. But when they get used to it, they find that their lives improve considerably. In the UK, the median age at which boys leave home for the first time is 22; for girls it is 20, according to research conducted by Mike Murphy, a professor of demography at LSE. Professor Murphy analysed data from the British Household Panel Study, which polled 2,272 mothers in 1991 about the ages at which all of their children had left home.

Daily Mail (5 October)
Married couples are healthier and live longer - and so do their children
Married couples live longer and enjoy better health, according to the Office for National Statistics. Mike Murphy, professor at the London School of Economics and one of the research authors, said: 'Some of the benefits of marriage can be explained by wealth, as the marriage rate is higher in higher socio-economic groups. But the evidence shows there is something in marriage itself that is a benefit.'

Times (5 October)
A longer life and in better health - marriage really is good for you
The ONS study, Focus on Families, suggests that married couples will be outnumbered by cohabiting couples and single-parent households within a generation if present trends continue. Mike Murphy, Professor of Demography at LSE and one of the authors of the report, said he had expected that society's greater acceptance of divorce and single-parenthood would have eroded the benefits of marriage, on health in particular, but this did not appear to be so.

Guardian (5 October)
Marriage still the best way to play happy, healthy families, says study.

Times of India
Stay married, live longer: Study
'All the evidence shows that there is something in marriage itself that is a benefit,' lead researcher Professor Mike Murphy of the London School of Economics was quoted as saying.